Seven self-help books you should read in 2023

By Kara Thompson,
Special to the AFRO

Baltimore has long been known as the “City that reads,” and now is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book. While biographies, mysteries and science-fiction texts all have their place on the reading list for 2023, this month, the AFRO spoke with mental health professionals to recommend books that will help our readers become the best version of themselves in the new year.

Each of these books have their own focus on a certain aspect of life, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. While these books all came top rated, exploring more titles on your own may help you find a book that’s even more tailored to your personal wants and needs. 

Clinical Psychology Kenya Ford, Psy.D., says it’s always good to check with a therapist before turning to a self-help book on a certain issue that you diagnose yourself with, as many diagnoses have overlapping symptoms.

“Consulting with a therapist can help you to get some diagnostic clarification on what you’re actually dealing with, and then that can better help you to figure out what self-help books you need,” Ford said. 

Otia Blake, a Baltimore-based mental health therapist for out-patients, agrees, adding, “As a clinician, my ultimate goal is to enhance the social, emotional, and psychological well-being of marginalized individuals, particularly in the Black and African-American communities. In doing so I will utilize person-centered, strengths-based, and narrative approaches to meet you where you are in your therapeutic process.”

Both therapists say thoughtful self-help books can be useful tools. Here are a few to consider.

  1. “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk

This book describes the experiences and findings of Bessel van der Kolk, who is one of the leading experts on traumatic stress. 

“It just talks about how the things we go through have an effect on our body. We’re holding trauma and stress in different parts of our body,” Ford said, adding, “A lot of therapists will tell you how your thoughts and your actions, your behavior, all these things are kind of connected. “The way that your body is if you’re having a lot of body pains, it could potentially be because you’re having a lot of stress, maybe you’re clenching muscles; maybe we hold trauma in certain parts of our body.” 

2. “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner

Blake also suggests this book to many of her clients. The text deals with consolation, comfort and clear-headedness in times of grief or suffering. Kushner, a rabbi, offers his wisdom, and pulls from his own experiences as a parent, such as when his young son was diagnosed with a degenerative disease, to offer readers insight. 

3.   “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” by Pete Walker

An area Ford has studied is complex trauma, and she thinks this book is really helpful and recommends it to clients who are dealing with many different traumas.

“It helps people who have been misdiagnosed with ADHD, bipolar, [or] a lot of other diagnoses, that [they] actually just have experienced a lot of trauma that’s kind of piled on top of each other,” she said. 

Walker said that he wrote the book without using too much complicated jargon so that the average person can understand the psychological concepts he lays out and learn ways to deal with them.

4.    “Year of Yes” by Shonda Rhimes

Rhimes, a creator and producer of many TV shows such as “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” published this memoir and self-help book in late 2015, after her sister at a 2013 Thanksgiving dinner made the comment that Rhimes “never says yes to anything.”

This moment was a wake-up call for Rhimes, who spent the next year saying “yes” to everything that scared her, and that she would have previously avoided. 

How she navigated her experience through this year is documented in the pages of her book, which can serve as an inspiration for those in similar situations to Rhimes; introverted and reserved but wanting to make a change.

5. “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones” by James Clear

This book is for anyone looking to make little changes in their day-to-day routines and lives. Through his studies, Clear has found that the issue with not being able to break bad habits lies not with the person, but with having an incorrect system for creating change.

His extensive research and knowledge regarding habits and their formation led him to write this book, which includes recommendations for small, easy behaviors that can be applied to daily life in order to not only stop bad habits but encourage good ones. 

6. “The Little Book of Big Lies: A Journey into Inner Fitness” by Tina Lifford

Self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-care are all important aspects of attaining “inner fitness,” according to Lifford. Her book deals with emotional health through asking readers a series of questions and helping to work through their answers.

Each chapter has a different topic of focus and ends with one of Lifford’s “inner fitness” practices that help people rethink “untruths” into more empowering, positive “truths,” which she pairs with advice on how to approach the topic from then on.

7. “The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love” by Sonya Renee Taylor

Taylor, an activist and poet, uses this book to help people celebrate the “enduring strength” of their minds and bodies, and to break the systems that maintain body shaming and oppression.

She focuses on the idea of what she describes as “radical self-love,” which goes much further than self-acceptance, to help people truly achieve peace with themselves and the bodies they are in. 

Final tips from the experts 

Ford noted that overcoming trauma and exhibiting personal care can be critical therapy. Experienced at working through racial identity issues, women’s issues, and being vocal about social justice, Ford said, “I tell my clients this is a collaborative thing. I’m the expert in the books. You’re the expert on your life. We’re working together.” 

Blake also emphasized self-love to clients. “Every journey is unique, but one worth living,” she said. “Navigate and overcome the challenges of your specific journey by validating the ways in which you think, feel, and react to various circumstances.”

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